Rikki Neave's sister breaks down in court ahead of killer's sentencing

‘Losing him was like losing the other half of me’ : Rikki Neave’s sister breaks down in court ahead of killer James Watson’s sentencing for 1994 murder of six-year-old schoolboy

  • Rikki Neave, six, was murdered by convicted sex offender James Watson, 41, in Peterborough in 1994
  • The boy’s mother Ruth was initially wrongly suspected of the crime but was cleared by a jury 26 years ago
  • Today, Rikki’s family including his two sisters gathered for sentencing of Watson, who evaded justice so long
  • Big sister Rebecca broke down as she remembered the ‘nightmare’ of losing the much-loved little boy

The sister of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave wept in court as  the family gathered to hear the sentencing of his killer James Watson.

Watson, 41, has appeared in court to be finally brought to justice for the murder of the six-year-old in Peterborough in 1994.

Watson wore a light, short-sleeved shirt, dark tie and trousers as he was brought into the dock of Court One at the Old Bailey on Friday morning, accompanied by a dock officer.

He was found guilty by a jury in April of murdering the child after the case went unsolved for close to three decades.

Giving evidence to the jury, Watson (pictured left and, right, as a child) denied having a sexual interest in children and denied any involvement in Rikki’s murder or disappearance. However he was found guilty by majority verdict of 10 to two today. Judge Mrs Justice McGowan is now expected to adjourn before sentencing Watson on a later date

Rikki (pictured left) was found in woodland in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on November 29, 1994. His mother, Ruth Neave (right), was cleared by a jury at Northampton Crown Court of her son’s murder

The majority verdict comes after 41-year-old Watson (pictured here in a court sketch) – who would have been 13 at the time of the killing – stood trial at the Old Bailey in London 

He will be handed a life sentence, with Mrs Justice McGowan previously saying the minimum term in prison will reflect that Watson was 13 when he struck.

The court heard various victim impact statements, firstly from Rochelle Orr, one of Rikki’s younger sisters.

She said: ‘I was only three when Rikki was murdered and I was removed from my family. After I entered the care system I suffered severe mental health issues.

‘I remember Rikki feeding me, washing me and help me with my clothes.

‘He has missed so much or our lives, happy times that we have had. I also wonder what he would be like if he was still here but, sadly, I will never know because he was taken from me.’

Sheradyn (left) and Rochelle Neave, two of the sisters of murdered schoolboy Rikki Neave

Ms Orr looked at Watson in the dock at points.

Rebecca Maria Harvey, Rikki’s eldest sister, broke down as she addressed the court.

She said: ‘Although I was the eldest, it wasn’t like that as he would look after me.

‘Losing Rikki was like losing the other half of me. I still wake up every day thinking it was a nightmare. I never had a brother to grow up with.

‘Rikki is the one who is not here and lost his life, but the effect this had on me and my family is just never-ending.’

She added: ‘I just cannot understand what happened or why.

‘This has been so traumatic, not knowing what happened to him or why. Not only did I lose Rikki, but I lost my whole family.

‘I miss him so much. All of our lives have been turned upside down and nothing has been the same since.

‘After all these years, it is about time Rikki has justice.’

The boy’s mother Ruth Neave said she felt like she had her ‘heart ripped out’ when Rikki was murdered, as James Watson prepared to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday.

Addressing Watson, but not using his name, she said: ‘After all these years of living your life… you finally get your comeuppance and Rikki Lee Harvey finally gets justice.’

Ms Neave said she did not want to be at court for Watson’s sentencing, but in a victim impact statement said: ‘Rikki was the most beautiful person ever. I miss all of his cheekiness, his laughter.

‘Why would someone kill such a beautiful child?’

She said the murder had a huge impact on her family. Ms Neave said: ‘Like stones dropping in a pond, it has rippled out far and wide.

‘Rikki’s murder left a massive hole in our lives and in our hearts. I miss him so much that it feels like I have had my heart ripped out.’

Addressing the court, John Price QC, prosecuting, said Rikki was particularly vulnerable due to being six years old. He said: ‘The fact is that it (his age) did play a part in what happened to him.

‘He was waylaid by this defendant (Watson) and taken to the woods on a day when he should have been at school.’


Rikki’s body was found posed naked in a star shape by Watson, who would have been 13 at the time of the killing and whose father lived on the same estate as Rikki.

The horrific murder sparked national outrage at the time, less than two years after the abduction, torture and brutal killing of two-year-old James Bulger in Merseyside. 

Watson’s web of lies and constantly changing alibis which helped him evade justice for 28 years mean much about the murder still remains unclear – including whether he knew Rikki prior to the killing.

However jury members heard how Watson’s DNA was found on adhesive tapings on Rikki’s clothes, and that Watson’s posing of the six-year-old’s naked body was an act carried out for his own sexual gratification.

The decision also came 26 years after Rikki’s mother Ruth Neave was cleared of her son’s murder by a jury at Northampton Crown Court following a high-profile 16-day trial

She later admitted child cruelty in relation to a number of incidents throughout Rikki’s short life, including grabbing Rikki around the throat, pushing him against a wall and lifting him up. 

Ms Neave was jailed for seven years in October 1996. Today, speaking after the verdict, she described her son’s murderer as a ‘monster’.

In a statement following today’s verdict, Ms Neave said: ‘The only thing now is to close this chapter in my life and open a new one.

‘I wonder what Rikki would be like today, married, children? Who knows?

‘But this monster has taken that all from me and my daughters.’

She praised jurors for making the ‘right decision’ and thanked ‘people that believed in me and Rikki’.

‘This is not the time to celebrate, as it should never have happened,’ said Ms Neave.

She described police and social services in the original investigation as ‘framing me for my son’s murder’.

‘Neglect and cruelty were used by these people to cover their own failings, information was gathered from liars, who gave multiple statements with many different versions of their lies,’ she said.

‘Statements were released to the media and I was not allowed to defend myself because of a gagging order from social services, so anyone could say anything and get away with it.’ 

After Ms Neave’s 1996 child abuse conviction, Rikki’s murder remained a mystery for a further 20 years, until new evidence came to light in 2015.

Jury members at the Old Bailey heard how Watson was arrested after sophisticated technology found a ‘definitive match’ between his DNA profile and samples taken from Rikki’s clothing after a new investigation was opened into the case.

Watson fled the country on a ferry at Dover in June 2016, before eventually consenting to his extradition from Portugal two months later.  

Jury members in the three-month-long trial at the Old Bailey in London heard how Watson wrapped the collar of Rikki’s blue anorak around the younger boy’s throat from behind him, pulling tightly for at least 30 seconds, in order to kill him.

They were also told how Watson – a convicted arsonist with ‘morbid fantasies’ and a ‘sexual interest’ in small children – had molested a five-year-old child a year before the murder and throttled a girlfriend during sex.

The ‘fantasist’ and ‘compulsive liar’ who evaded justice for Rikki Neave’s murder for nearly 30 years: Who is James Watson?

James Watson is ‘a fantasist, a dangerous individual, and a compulsive liar’, according to police.

Watson came from a broken home in Peterborough and was treated by social services as a ‘vulnerable child’ from March 1993.

That year, he was interviewed about a complaint that he had sexually assaulted a five-year-old boy.

Then aged 12, Watson denied it and no further action was taken, although years later he admitted it was ‘just two boys playing with each other’s penises’.

In April 1994, Watson told a family member he was physically assaulted by his father, James Watson senior, who he lived with on the Welland Estate.

On being taken into care, he stayed with foster mother Molly Donald, who he formed an attachment to.

She found him with a shotgun and felt she could not cope so Watson was sent away again, this time to Woodgate’s children’s home in March, some 20 miles from Peterborough.

Watson frequently played truant from school and would change into civilian clothes, jurors heard.

From enrolling at Walton School in Peterborough to the day of the murder, Watson was marked present on the register 18 times out of a possible 38 school days.

At the age of 13, he became obsessed with the fantasy of strangling a little boy, even telling his mother he had heard a news report about it on the radio.

Three days later, the fantasy came true when he murdered six-year-old Rikki Neave at around midday on November 28 1994, the prosecution said.

He stripped him naked for his own sexual gratification, ‘exhibiting’ the posed body to be found near a children’s den in the woods, prosecutor John Price QC said.

Afterwards, Watson became ‘fascinated’ by his own actions and made copious copies of newspaper stories, jurors were told.

He even told teachers that he knew Rikki as the brother of a friend, one of a multitude of lies.

Watson ‘cursed’ the fact he been seen with Rikki by an elderly lady, leaving him no option but to admit an encounter when police called on December 5 1994.

Watson’s account was peppered with lies but went unchallenged for more than 20 years as police wrongly pursued Rikki’s mother Ruth.

Meanwhile, care workers noted his bizarre behaviour, masturbating over a children’s clothes catalogue, keeping a dead pheasant in his room, and once allegedly throttling a member of staff with a stocking.

He moved to another care home, and despite knowing he was gay from an early age, formed a relationship with a girl, aged 15.

In 2016, she told police Watson once killed and posed a bird and would strangle her when they had sex in woods.

Watson clocked up a long list of convictions for petty crimes, including setting fire to a British Transport Police station in Peterborough.

In his evidence, Watson said he would steal cars for ‘fun’ and claimed he felt aggrieved at police because of their role in taking him away from his family.

He also claimed his late father had been a police officer, although Cambridgeshire Police say there is no record of it.

Mr Price told jurors that in the years before his arrest for Rikki’s murder, Watson became forensically aware and adept at dealing with police.

So even before police confirmed his DNA had been identified on Rikki’s clothes, Watson was prepared with another lie, which was to prove his undoing.

Watson, who maintained his connection with Peterborough through his sister Clair and mother Shirley, concocted a fictitious story about lifting Rikki up to look through a hole in a fence to watch diggers.

He did not factor in the determination of police, who established the fence was not there in 1994.

When Watson fled the country, his sister Clair Perna tried to get him travel documents but insisted they were only to help him return to Britain.

Ms Perna told jurors their late father had been a lorry driver, but quickly added that she thought he was a police officer before she was born.

She said her brother would never hurt a child, but was in the dark about his admitted sexual activity with a five-year-old.

Unbeknownst to her, for 27 years Watson had also lived with the biggest secret of all – Rikki’s murder.


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